On Christian faith: Andrew Sullivan, 1; Ross Douthat, 0.


Andrew Sullivan, the pundit with a “conservative soul”, convincingly zen-slaps Ross Douthat, the New York Times columnist who thinks Pope Francis is an existential threat to Roman Catholicism because he wants to consider flexibility on the question of whether divorced Catholics ought to be given the sacrament of Holy Communion. After summarizing Ross’s argument and spelling out its deficiencies, Andrew adds:

This stringency [Douthat’s] on sexual morality — combined with flexibility on so much else — is part of what has rendered the church toxic for so many, especially given its own recent, horrifying sexual standards. When you barely bat an eye at the rape of children and come down hard on someone who left a toxic marriage, you run the risk, to say the least, of seeming somewhat lacking in moral integrity. And what this worldview unwittingly does is draw attention away from the broader, far more central tenets of the faith: the truly foundational commandments to love one another, to forgive one another, to defend human dignity, to advance the Kingdom. In the broader context of secularizing modernity, of the widening vista of loneliness and despair, of the attenuation of community and charity, of environmental vandalism, of the false idols of celebrity and money, of the throwaway culture that treats unborn human life as so much industrial waste, of the cruelty and heartlessness of late-stage capitalism … is it really worth creating a schism over a pastoral attempt to include those beached by a bad or toxic marriage?

That’s just about as good a short list of ways that traditionalist Christians have retreated into a myopic, sometimes bordering on pathologically ossified, vision of their faith that I’ve seen. Ross’s values are the priorities of the Formal-Mind (Amber), clinging tightly to formalities of ritual and purity (excluding the sinners) in order to avoid a mortal threat to the self, and Andrew’s stated values are considerably more evolved (speaking beautifully to values up and down the spectrum of Mind in a way that is neither possible nor necessary to categorize precisely).

Taking a well-balanced Integral view (as I am wont to do in “The Umpire’s Perch” column), it isn’t necessary to remain impartial to, neutral towards, or “float above” cultural conflicts like this one. What is essential about Ross’s perspective — the holiness of rituals to express one’s philosophical and foundational principles, the value of communities of memory and preservation, and even the sanctity of marriage are all upheld by both of these pundits. That fact alone separates Andrew’s criticism from the typical sort of “progressive Christian” (a.k.a. Green) critique of fundamentalists and traditionalists (wherein the progressive would usually reject the faith itself, or belittle the core values of Ross’s that are important).

Basically, Andrew has already integrated Ross’s core values just as any good integralist would; but the “conservative soul” guy just didn’t let those values steep so long in egocentric and ethnocentric bathwater that they became shriveled and nearly useless.

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